The much-anticipated sixth-season premiere of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” fell a little short of its series-high same-day ratings set last year, but it appears poised to become the show’s most-watched episode to date once viewership on other platforms is included.
Nielsen estimates that 7.944 million watched the 9 p.m. premiere telecast on Sunday, the third-largest linear audience to date for the show — a bit below both its year-ago premiere (7.997 million) and finale (8.112 million). But given that stand-alone streaming service HBO Now broke usage records on Sunday night, it’s a pretty safe bet that overall viewership for “The Red Woman” will set a single-telecast series record.
In another way of looking at the ratings for Sunday’s premiere, “Thrones” has already set a record. When you add up the linear viewership for the night’s three HBO airings, plus early numbers for streaming in HBO Go and HBO Now, the total of 10.7 million is up 9% from last year’s premiere (9.8 million) and 4% above the previous high set with last year’s finale (10.3 million).
Elsewhere for HBO on Sunday, the season premiere of “Silicon Valley” drew 1.863 million “live plus same-day” viewers, above its season-two average last year but a bit below the 2 million mark it achieved with both last year’s premiere and finale. And “Veep” (1.098 million) was slightly above its year-ago premiere (1.048) and nearly on par with its season high set with the finale (1.112 million).
The release of Sunday’s “Game of Thrones” ratings marks the end of an incredible “live plus same-day” streak for the show that has seen it grow its audience with each finale and premiere. “Thrones” opened in April 2011 with 2.22 million viewers and then closed season one with 3.04 million. Season two kicked off with 3.86 million and wrapped with 4.20 million, and season three followed with 4.37 million for its premiere and 5.39 for the conclusion. The show then set another high with its season four premiere (6.63 million) and finale (7.09 million) in 2014, and then did it again in 2015 with 8 million for its season-five debut and 8.11 million for its conclusion.
In “live plus-7” ratings, which include seven-day VOD and DVR playback, season five of “Game of Thrones” averaged 9.51 million viewers. Though demos aren’t relevant to HBO from an advertiser perspective, the L+7 adults 18-49 average for “Thrones” last season ranked No. 5 among all entertainment series on television.
Sunday’s premiere logged a 4.0 demo rating, also the third best to date for the show. Last year’s premiere did a 4.2, and the finale a 4.1.
As the first season that doesn’t directly correlate with one of George R.R. Martin’s novels, buzz was even higher than usual for this year’s “Game of Thrones,” whose creators have touted as “the best one yet.” The premium cable network, which was spooked last year when multiple episodes of the show were leaked onto Bit-Torrent, added a layer of secrecy to this season by making the premiere episode available only to members of the press who were able to attend a closely guarded April 10 premiere party in Los Angeles.
Critics remain solidly behind “Game of Thrones,” though this year’s opener generated more mixed reviews. According to review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Sunday’s season-six premiere scored an 81% “certified fresh” rating — down from a 100% in the four of the first five seasons and a 97% in season four.
“Most critics say that the season premiere is a solid return to form,” said Matt Atchity, Editor-in-Chief of Rotten Tomatoes, “although some say that the abundance of storylines and characters has started to make the series unwieldy.”
Following HBO’s entertainment series on Sunday, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” drew 1.343 million viewers, up by nearly 500,000 viewers week to week (from 849,000). One night earlier, the Beyonce special “Lemonade” averaged 787,000 viewers.